The tide has turned at AFI Fest, from embarrassment to embarrassment of riches. When it was announced this past spring that longtime AFI Fest programming director Nancy Collet would be vacating her post to “pursue other career opportunities,” I questioned in these pages whether festival director Christian Gaines and other American Film Institute higher-ups would seize the opportunity to start anew with someone who would (unlike Collet) actually take the job of programming our city’s longest-running film festival seriously. As it happens, they’ve done just that: In the barely four months since she hit the ground running as Collet’s replacement, Rose Kuo and her team of programming associates (some new, some holdovers from Collet’s regime) have managed to assemble exactly the sort of eclectic, ambitious film lineup that local audiences have always deserved from AFI Fest but have long been denied. (Collet, meanwhile, recently made headlines for inviting, then uninviting the acclaimed Israeli film The Band’s Visit from Abu Dhabi’s Middle East International Film Festival, where she has momentarily taken up residence.)
Among AFI Fest 2007’s highlights (discussed in more detail in the pages that follow): three of the major prizewinners from this year’s Cannes Film Festival (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Secret Sunshine, and Silent Light); strong new works from established masters (including Jacques Rivette and Hou Hsiao-Hsien); inspired debuts by young independent filmmakers (including Jonas Cuaron’s Year of the Nail and Alex Holdridge’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss); and a special evening (on Friday, November 9) with avant-garde filmmaker Jennifer Reeves, whose latest work revives the nearly extinct tradition of multiple-projection film “performance.” (Fret not: There are a smattering of high-profile Hollywood premieres too.) And as any serious festival should, AFI Fest has pulled these disparate elements together under one roof as if to say, “This is cinema today.” Since its own internal shakeup in 2001, Film Independent’s summertime Los Angeles Film Festival has seemed like the only thing close to a world-class festival in the world’s supposed movie capital. Now, there is another horse in that race, and we all know that a little friendly competition never hurt anyone.
Unless otherwise noted, all AFI Fest films screen at ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd. For complete showtimes and to purchase tickets, visit www.afifest.com.